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Exhibition of Surrealists before Surrealism opens at Fundación Juan March in Madrid
Hendrik Goltzius, Segun Cornelis van Haarlem, La Caida de Icaro, 1588. Lamina II de Die vier Himmelssturmer. Calcografia, 35.5 x 34.3. Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg. Photo: Monika Runge.

MADRID.- The autumn season of exhibitions launches at the Fundación Juan March with the inauguration of Surrealists Before Surrealism. Fantasy and the fantastical in printmaking, drawing and photography. The exhibition comprises a selection of around 200 works including drawings, prints, photographs, books and magazines that span the period from the late Middle Ages to 20th-century Surrealism.

Organised in collaboration with the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg and curated by the head of its Department of Prints and Drawings, Yasmin Doosry, the exhibition features artists such as Martin Schongauer, Albrecht Dürer, Erhard Schön, Matthias Zündt, Wenzel Jamnitzer, Hendrick Goltzius, Jaques Callot, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Francisco de Goya, Max Klinger, Alfred Kubin, Paul Klee, Hannah Höch, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí, Herbert Bayer, Hans Bellmer, André Masson, Brassaď and Maurice Tabard. Their works offer a comprehensive summary of the enormous iconographic richness that exists within the world of artistic fantasy and the genre of the fantastical. The exhibition reveals the way in which the Surrealists’ artistic sensibility and their procedures offered a heightened gaze on a lengthy tradition of subjective art that runs from the late Middle Ages to the modern era and encompasses Mannerism and the Baroque.

The present exhibition follows in the wake of the legendary one entitled Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism organised in 1936 by Alfred H. Barr, the founder-director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. For the first time, that exhibition juxtaposed works by contemporary artists with others by Hieronymous Bosch, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, William Hogarth, Francisco de Goya, Grandville and others with the aim of giving Surrealism its own genealogy.

The exhibition and its accompanying catalogue (published in Spanish, English and German) is organised into eleven sections: 1. The interior eye. 2. Magical spaces. 3. Changing perspectives. 4. Composite figures. 5 The human eye constructed. 6 The (dis)order of things. 7. The Capriccio. 8. The metamorphosis of nature. 9. Phantasmagorias. 10. The shadows of shadows, and 11. Waking dreams – nocturnal thoughts. The catalogue includes texts by Yasmin Doosry, Juan José Lahuerta, Rainer Schoch, Christiane Lauterbach and Christine Kupper.


For centuries artists have used their imagination with the aim of eliminating the frontiers between the exterior and interior world in order to fuse the everyday with the unimaginable. Their particular imagination, heightened to the point of the fantastical, has often led them into unknown regions beyond social conventions and prevailing academic norms. As such, fantastical art and Surrealism have a historical dimension and have been equally nourished by the Christian, Medieval fear of Hell and the formal richness of ornamental art, by curiosity and enthusiasm for the discoveries in the field of natural sciences on the threshold of the modern age, and by the Mannerist’s artistic virtuosity. With the creation of magical spaces, the transformation of the objectual world into fetishes and that of natural phenomena and the representation of irrational states of mind into symbols, artists created contradictory and enigmatic images filled with visual and thematic puns that activated the imagination and thus made the unknown visible. With their openness to the unexpected and the unique, the Surrealists focused their gaze in an unprecedented manner on this lengthy tradition of nonconformist and subjective art. The origins of this attitude may lie in their desire to break with standard rhetorical models and ideas from the past in order to create new realities.

SURREALISTS BEFORE SURREALISM is the result of a collaborative endeavour between the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg and the Fundación Juan March in Madrid, who have worked together on the project for the last four years. The works on display are mainly from the graphic holdings of the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, with others from the Fundación Juan March and from important public and private collections in Spain and elsewhere in Europe, without whose support the exhibition would not have been possible.

The aim of both the exhibition, which is inaugurated on 4 October and will be on display at the Fundación Juan March in Madrid until 12 January 2014, and of its accompanying catalogue is to assist the viewer in seeing the art of the distant past and of the modern era through a gaze charged with what Walter Benjamin called “time-now”, meaning the modern, living element contained within the past, while also facilitating a vision of Surrealism and fantastical art of the 20th century as an avant-garde movement that requires knowledge of a wide-ranging repertoire of historical visual sources in order to be appreciated and enjoyed in all its rich complexity.

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